Client of the month- Healthwatch Knowsley

Healthwatch is a local health and social care champion. They make sure NHS leaders and other decision makers hear your voice and use your feedback to improve care. Healthwatch can also help you to find reliable and trustworthy information and advice. Healthwatch Knowsley provides this role for people using health and social care services in Knowsley and operates alongside other Healthwatch established within every local authority area of England.

Could you share with us how Healthwatch Knowsley has positively affected the local community recently?

In addition to our role collecting and reporting the experiences of health and social care services, Healthwatch Knowsley plays a key role in helping local people to navigate these key services and communicating key information about them in a way that the general population can understand.

For example, NHS patients are now faced with a confusing array of online apps designed to be an interface between patient and GP practices or other health services.

Many residents in our local community have stated that they are willing to use this technology but are just confused by the wide range on offer. In response to this we have led on the development of a health technology guide which provides information about each of the main options as well as how or when each should be used. This is currently being made available to the Knowsley community.

What would you say are some of the standout achievements of Healthwatch Knowsley over the last year?

Here are 3:

During the Covid vaccination programme some of the most vulnerable people with no transport or support mechanisms of their own needed additional help to attend and receive their vaccination. We highlighted this to local NHS officers and furthermore suggested a solution. We offered our existing taxi account to be made available in such cases and this was promoted as part of Knowsley ’s local vaccination offer. The same system has been made available for the most recent Covid-19 vaccination booster programme as well as the winter flu programme 2023-24 and for children’s immunisation.

Knowsley Council is refreshing much of its public facing information in light of the Adult Social Care Recovery and Transformation Plan. We have arranged sessions with local people encouraging the Local Authority to use these to ensure the public can contribute to the purpose and content of this information. This is helping to improve communication and ensure that leaflets, websites and correspondence is written in clear plain language with options for other format.

Healthwatch Knowsley continues to challenge systems which unfairly exclude those who do not have access to digital technology. Lack of access can be due to many factors such as cost or complexity and is not always resolved simply by offering more training. Whilst service providers often find that a digital service suits them best we need to continue to remind them that the preferences of service users are equally important. Following re-design of the local Phlebotomy service, walk-in sessions offering blood tests were discontinued and on-line booking of appointments introduced. We successfully requested that booking by telephone also be offered.

What major challenges have you faced and how did you manage to overcome them?

Probably in common with many other organisations, our most difficult challenge came about with the emergence of Covid-19 in 2020 and the raft of restrictions we had to observe. As an organisation whose major function is public engagement, we suddenly found ourselves unable to engage as we previously had done.

We had never really used online video platforms as part of our business, but had to move quickly to establish this so that we could not only continue our core work, but also help support local residents who were really struggling. We found Zoom the most usable platform for community engagement.

How has feedback from the community directly influenced your services or projects?

This is fundamental for Healthwatch organisations as our core functions include listening to local people about their views of health and social care and sharing this as evidence-based feedback with service providers and commissioners.

A good example of this is our work with refugees and asylum seekers who have particular issues and concerns trying to access health and social care services due to not being registered with a GP and often not speaking English. Part of our response is attending weekly group sessions with refugees and asylum seekers to signpost appropriate help.

In what ways have your efforts led to improvements in local health and social care services?

Because we have the opportunity to speak directly to the providers and commissioners of health and care services about real experiences and issues received from service users, we have regularly been able to influence decisions about improving services.

For example, we have undertaken work to contact the users of domiciliary home care agencies operating in Knowsley – often the most elderly and vulnerable people. Whilst for the most part feedback was positive, a recurring theme from comments received was of care visits being interrupted when the care worker received calls on their mobile phones from the office. The Local Authority who organise and often pay for such services from provider agencies were unaware of this practice happening and have taken steps to reduce its impact on those being looked after.

What approaches do you use to effectively engage with different groups within the community?

There is no single ideal approach for community engagement. Much depends on the characteristics and preferences of the target group, as well as the nature and detail of the insight being sought.

However, as a rule of thumb we find that effective engagement is best achieved when barriers to participation are removed and an approach which aims for equality of access is in place.

For example, online surveys are very popular and are used by many organisations to collect feedback about their services, though clearly they would not be accessible to anyone who does not access the internet. This isn’t to say that online surveys have no place, but that there should be alternative provision for people to participate who need it, such as a paper version which can be added to the online submissions. As a further example – Car ownership is particularly low in Knowsley and therefore we have always offered transport for those who need it to attend our forums and groups.

What are the main goals or plans Healthwatch Knowsley is looking forward to in the near future?

Healthwatch Knowsley views itself as being community led and it is the views and concerns of local people that we aim to prioritise. With this in mind we engaged widely earlier this year to identify a number of Healthwatch Knowsley priority areas for 2023/24:

Can you highlight some of the ways MICT has supported Healthwatch Knowsley in achieving its goals?

Like many modern businesses our IT resources are crucial to our operation and to our business continuity.

The Covid-19 outbreak moved us to a greater reliance on technology in order for our staff to be able to work from home with efficient access to hardware, our telephone system, emails and digital documents. We have found MICT provide a great service to help keep these systems operating and secure. We have also found them fast and responsive on those occasions when things go wrong or need upgrading.

Can you share a story where Healthwatch Knowsley made a significant difference in someone’s life?

The last 12 months have seen a rise in the number of calls we’ve received about access to dentistry. Many dentists are reducing the number of NHS patients they see whilst recruiting patients who are willing to pay for private treatment. This means that NHS patients are frequently removed if they have not made appointments or failed to attend appointments.

We were contacted by Miss C who needed dental treatment but had been removed from her own dental practice for not attending a couple of appointments. Investigating this we discovered that Miss C could not have attended as she was in hospital at the time. She had unfortunately been in an abusive relationship and had been physically attacked by her partner resulting in hospitalisation. Many of her injuries related to her mouth and teeth and was the reason why she was seeking a dentist on this occasion.

We considered that her exclusion under the circumstances was harsh and asked her dental practice if they might reconsider which they did. Accessing this dental treatment to repair damage to her mouth was an important first step for Miss C in ending her abusive relationship and rebuilding her life.

What’s the most rewarding aspect of working with Healthwatch Knowsley for you?

The most rewarding aspect is when we see decisions about commissioning or delivering local health and social care which are based on the evidence we have provided by listening to our local community.

How MICT can help you

MICT work with lots of charities, community interest companies and local supporting agencies. We understand the challenges that these businesses face and are experienced in supporting their IT needs to help them run as efficiently as possible. If you want to deal with a supportive, friendly company, that want to take the time to get to know you, then please do get in touch, we’d be happy to have a chat and see how we can help. You can contact us via the website or give one of the team on  0150 708 0702

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